One Weekend Down

So “SideQuests: The Princess & The Peasant” is a thing. Opening weekend has come and gone and we have one brush-up rehearsal and three remaining performances before the show is a wrap.

At the time of my last post, we had just held our first read-through. The show has come through extensive changes since then, not least of which was the title.

I did, in fact, find the subtitle “The Un-Adventures of Blink” to be a little too video game-y, so three or so weeks before opening – and before most of the marketing had gone out – we changed the title to “SideQuests: The Princess & The Peasant,” which makes way more sense and is an easier sell, especially when making comparisons to films like “The Princess Bride” in terms of tone.

The new title also is a bit of an intentional misnomer – obviously for most of the show the assumption is that the titular Princess and Peasant are Rana and Blink, respectively. In the final scene in the show, where the subtitle is actually uttered, it’s revealed that it’s actually about someone else entirely.

The script is about the right length, but it’s only thanks to the help of our stage manager Nate Hein and the stage crew that the show is able to be pulled off in roughly a page-a-minute. I would be remiss not to also thank the costume designers Stacey Martin and Jenna Harrington, who dedicated at least, if not more, time to the show than even the primary cast members in pulling out some elaborate designs. Similarly, Daryl Person and Dan Van Bibber made many of the set pieces possible, and a massive team of cast & crew pulled out all the stops to paint the scenery on the revolving flats and static backdrop.

The cast went through some minor shake-ups as well. For a good chunk of the early rehearsals, Skeeter Bite Productions vet Jake Pannill (Indiana Jake from back in the Week in Hot Springs days, Gus in The Christmas Heist) was playing Sir Billiam, but he unfortunately had to drop out. However, that opened up an insane and not-entirely-coincidental spot for Zach Cox, who had originally played Blink back in 2016, to jump in and join the cast as Sir Billiam.

And wow, what a change Zach’s energy brought to the show. His cocky yet cheerfully charming portrayal of the pompous, arrogant and selfish Sir Billiam added a whole new dynamic, especially in his interactions with Breanna Remington, who played Billiam’s squire, Rowan, and Blink himself, Jesse Powers.

Jesse had, only a couple years ago, played the role of the young brother “Billy” in “I Sent My Grandma Into the Past.” Billy was essentially a Dennis the Menace-esque 50s-era troublemaker archetype, and with that show being Jesse’s first, he played it very timid. Man, what a difference 2 years makes. At age 15, Jesse is able to carry the whole first half of the show without much problem. His portrayal of Blink is a little more awkward and shy than Zach’s more assertive approach in the short film, so he has his own spin that you absolutely buy into as soon as you hear him start to speak.

Zach joining in partway through – and bringing that sort of quiet earnestness that he had brought to Blink, Spencer in “Grandma,” and Robin in “Christmas Heist” – really made me reconsider the character of Sir Billiam and as we rehearsed, there was a gap in the show where we needed some dialogue to cover Blink’s filling up Rowan & Billiam’s canteens, so I dashed out some new dialogue between Billian & his squire to not only fill time, but also allow Billiam the one moment of letting his guard down, and it ended up becoming one of my favorite parts of the show.

I really will have to sit down and write a lengthier blog about the character of Rana, probably after the show’s run finishes, so I can talk spoilers, but suffice it to say that in SHCT newcomer Abigail Kreilaus, we found someone who could really take that character and run with her, and surprised the hell out of me once we cracked what made her tick.

The character of Lexi, too, who had only really come about in the last month or so before auditions, found shape in Paetyn Van Bibber, who has really just blew me away throughout the run at her intuition as a performer at such a young age. As a nod toward the Jamie Klotz’s Diary movies, I pulled out the purple hoodie that had been purchased (and never used) for Jamie Klotz’s Diary 3 and passed it on to Lexi – and although it’s not mentioned verbally in the show, a prop work order for the Narrator character canonizes Lexi as Jamie’s cousin.

And that little frog puppet, who had made his way into my life back in 2009 for “The Frog Gump,” got his own little hat to match the one worn by Craig “CR” Gates, who plays Gorf in the show (which had been Oliver Juhl’s role in the short.)

If I can be a bit candid, I have been disappointed with the attendance over the first 3 nights. They’re very much “on par” for our previous normal summer shows (excluding the musical HMS Pinafore), but for the sake of the 40-odd cast & crew, who have put their heart and soul into this show, I had really been hoping for more, and am really banking on the Arts & Crafts Festival to drive more people to the show next weekend.

But I always end up being the eternal optimist, and I am already looking forward to what other projects I might be doing on the horizon. I had been worried for a long time after Graceland that maybe I was done for, and had used up all the good ideas, but now that I’ve possibly found some fun new collaborators through this show, I have been inspired with some new ideas. As usual, most of them probably won’t go anywhere, but I am excited to just have ideas again at all.

This Frog Puppet’s Come a Loooong Way in 10 Years

Hey so writing on this thing is a thing I still do like once or twice a year… apparently when a show or movie is coming up. Gotta justify that domain name and hosting cost just a little, right?

We held auditions back on April 23rd for the summer production for Southern Hills Community Theatre’s 7th season, SideQuests: The Un-Adventures of Blink.

I first started brainstorming the story for SideQuests in late 2014, well before I had written The Christmas Heist, just shortly after the very first outline of Never Been to Graceland, and even before we’d finished filming Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2.

The concept was literally as simple as this: what would a story look like where you followed a background character? This at its core isn’t a new idea: one need look no further than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as an example of this premise at play. Certainly there’s no shortage of minor characters and reluctant heroes developing into something more significant or commenting on the absurdity of the larger story.

But what if you took that a step further? What if there was a character who wasn’t only a character of no importance, but actively pursued that as the status quo. Dropped into a fantasy backdrop, I thought a series a short films filmed in summer 2015 would make a great way to try this concept out.

An early logo draft for SideQuests from 2015-ish.

Even as early as March 2015, I had several characters outlined: Blink of Springshire, Princess Rana, Sir Billiam, and Lord Phil (later Lord Poe). The initial plan was to film 4 different shorts, each representing a different style of video game side quest and commenting on it. There would be an overarching plot that would play out as well in the background – the larger story of political intrigue in this fantasy kingdom, with the idea that the “real story” was merely peripheral to whatever Blink was doing.

  • -There was a Fetch quest, where Blink would seek out a magic lamp for a wizard and would in turn receive several potions from the wizard
  • -A Delivery/Trade quest, which spoofed the Legend of Zelda-esque item trading and would have Blink running from town to town progressively getting more frustrated at how many errands need running;
  • -A Random Encounter quest, which played with the idea of procedurally generated game missions, with Blink and Rana encountering NPCs that spoke in looped dialogue and fractured sentences meant to serve up random quests, as well as copy-pasted enemies and NPCs, with Rana, an “important” character finding this extremely bizarre and Blink, a nobody, not finding anything odd at all;
  • -And an Escort quest, which would essentially be the culmination of Rana accompanying Blink throughout the 4 episodes and it being revealed she was in fact a princess the whole time, thereby upending Blink’s entire mode of thinking
The frog puppet that appears in SideQuests as a short film was first purchased for an unfinished short in 2009 called “The Frog Gump.” Bits of this were released as part of Skeeter Bite Scraps.

By the end of March 2015, I had gone as far as writing a partial script for the Escort quest – from Blink getting the potions from the wizard to him first seeing Rana, to him serving up the potions to Sir Billiam and his “fellowship” of traveling adventurers. By the time I finished with the 11-page script, I realized that I had barely touched on the actual Side Quest itself and had instead cracked something more interesting and substantial than just some quirky video game references.

Having stopped writing the shorts in pursuit of a longer, larger story that tied better into the material I’d written, I called off the planned filming as I was wrapping up post-production on the first cut of Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2. Then The Christmas Heist began ramping up in mid-to-late 2015 and I put SideQuests on the back burner, although I think I may have mentioned it offhand to the cast at the time.

After Heist, my headspace was pretty different from when I’d started writing Graceland, so I pretty much scrapped everything and started over on Graceland‘s script. In mid-2016, to distract myself as Graceland was coming closer and closer to reality, I had continued developing the world of SideQuests, fleshing out the characters of the Royal Advisors, Sir Billiam’s Fellowship, the process of Princess Rana’s Appraisement (later, the Proving Ceremony) and a sweeping, overarching story. But my biggest struggle was trying to understand what made the character of Blink tick.

The final logo for SideQuests

The initial idea of him avoiding being anyone important is not actually as simple as it seems. It’s totally at odds with everything in a writer’s bones, and to have him be internally consistent, I had to sit and think about, in every scenario, how is he going to avoid actually doing anything of importance? And as a reader, you want to root for the protagonist. Even anti-heroes and reluctant heroes have their cheerleaders. I kept getting this weird feeling that Blink was unlikable in some way.

When I finally sat down to start writing again, I tried writing it as a narrative. It was there that I wrote the first words that would define Blink and his journey right up front:

 

Blink is not a hero.

Don’t root for him because he will only disappoint you.  …

You see, Blink took a vow to never be a hero; to never be anyone or do anything important. As far as he knows, he’s the only person to have ever taken such a vow, and it has served him well. 

That was it. For Blink to work, you just had to say up front: look, this guy’s going to disappoint you. And then you have the freedom to deliver on that. I didn’t get far on SideQuests in that format, though, before Graceland beckoned.

What I did realize, though, was that although I’d been editing Jamie Klotz 2 well into 2015, I hadn’t actually directed anything on video since late 2014, when we had made The Black Owl – and that, too, wasn’t finished yet. So before I went off and made Graceland, I quickly wrote up a script using some scene ideas I’d had between Blink and Rana, got Zach and Isabel, who had been in The Christmas Heist, to play the characters, respectively, and we roped in Oliver Juhl to play the character of Gorf, a dentist’s son who’d been magically turned into a frog.

Dusting off my camera and abilities, we went out and shot the short SideQuests: Gorf in a single day, on August 14, 2016, just a mere couple

The frog puppet also appeared as one of Jamie’s blind dates that Kaitlyn set her up on in Jamie Klotz’s Diary 1 in 2013. The exact puppet will also be used in the stage version of SideQuests.

weeks before Never Been to Graceland would start filming. Graceland took over and once more SideQuests, even with all the footage on the hard drive, got set aside for the time being, and wasn’t even touched until after we’d wrapped I Sent My Grandma Into the Past, the spring 2017 show I’d written and directed for SHCT.

I started fooling around with the footage in April 2017 as a distraction from the editing of Graceland, giving it some warm Hobbiton-esque color grading but it wasn’t until November that I finally finished it, and I didn’t publish it online it until New Year’s Eve 2017, nearly a year and 4 months from when it had been filmed.

Around that same time, I’d gotten together a group of youth actors to help me do a brief read-through of some of the archival Skeeter Bite Productions scripts and material for a retrospective documentary that would eventually blossom into Skeeter Bite Scraps in 2018. We were able to record a read-through of the SideQuests “Fellowship” script.

The rear of the promotional cards

The positive reception of this material gave me reason to believe the story was still worth pursuing, so after the 2018 SHCT season finished, I asked the board if I could develop SideQuests into a full show for the 2019 season. There would be a bit of a time crunch to write the script but I already had nearly 40 pages of scripts, scenes and story written, along with a more fleshed out outline to follow, so they gave me the go-ahead.

And that’s pretty much how I got here. The script for SideQuests isn’t quite as long as The Christmas Heist, but it’s a bit longer than I Sent My Grandma Into the Past. I think it’s got the potential to be funnier than either. I am still a little worried about the title – it might be a bit TOO video-gamey but I managed to make that an integral part of the story, and made a point to include a definition of the phrase on our promo touch cards we’ll have the cast handing out.

One of the last and most fundamental changes to the story actually came within the last month before we wrapped the spring show, Leading Ladies. For quite some time, the story had had two separate Narrator characters that would jump in and out of the story, and ultimately they were to be become the rulers of the kingdom since they had the most knowledge of any character in the story. It was funny, but it seriously lacked the heart that had been present in the earlier shows I’d written and I was stumped how to bring it home in an emotional way. I finally cut one of the Narrators, had the other quit halfway through the show, and brought in a completely new character, a young girl named Lexi, that could serve as the audience’s perspective into this crazy fantasy world. Lexi’s love of video games helped to better clarify immediately in the first scene what a “side quest” actually is, and a twist in her story that not only could tie into the relationship that builds between two of the antagonists but also help give Rana someone to relate to, finally gave SideQuests the heart it needed.

It remains to be seen how the story will play out. Certainly there will be changes to the script as we’re rehearsing. In The Christmas Heist, there were at least a couple entire (albeit short) scenes that got cut or integrated in part to other scenes, and I’m sure SideQuests will evolve as well. But I can’t wait to share the story with everyone.

Oh, and as I did on The Christmas Heist, I filmed the read through in anticipation of the moment in which the big twist is revealed… which got a nice big reaction from the cast. You can see some open and covered mouths at the shocking revelation in store for audiences when we perform this puppy in June.

Skeeter Bite Scraps

In 2003, I wrote my first play that was performed in choir class. True to form, it was Elvis-inspired, and called “Viva Las Vegas 2.” Classmates performed, with me injecting Elvis songs in the flimsy plot. I had thought it had been lost (either on a tape I didn’t own, or recorded over) until I recently re-discovered it on an old VHS tape. And so that means 2018 marks 15 years since I first really started developing stories to tell, be they films, plays or short stories.

Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly going through, re-transferring old Hi-8 and miniDV tapes and even getting old hard drives repaired, full of raw footage.

I’ve uploaded videos of student life at my high school, re-edited & remastered many of the short films that were completed, and even pieced together short films that had only been partly shot, like Taterfied and The Big Play.

This video represents essentially everything else that’s left in the Skeeter Bite Productions video archives worth looking at. Short of uploading complete, unedited files, this both marks a celebration of everything that we’ve made the last 15 years and shows the progression in terms of quality and purpose.

There are partial scenes from unfinished shorts, raw test footage (some only seconds in length), outtakes & behind the scenes shots, alternate and unused scenes from otherwise finished projects… literally scraps.

Here’s a breakdown of everything you’ll see

-The first video I ever shot, of downtown Hot Springs
-Indiana Jones Fan Film: Test footage for an Indiana Jones fan film in 2005. I’m playing the Indy stand-in and you can hear Jesse and Matt behind the camera. These first few clips were recovered from an old Hi-8 tape.
-Wise Man on the Rock: This was the next short film we attempted to make, but it was mostly recorded over except these few seconds. Essentially, Jesse would have gone to seek out Matt, playing the titular Wise Man, for some sage advice. Later, this character was merged into the Mountain Dew Monster from A Day in Hot Springs, and in fact, in some versions of that film, Jim even says “That’s not the Mountain Dew Monster, that’s the old man on the rock!” This is sourced from the original digital transfer of the tape – the tape was subsequently recorded over again.
-Jesse & Matt playing pool: just the intro of this, though there’s probably a good 10 minutes of them playing on the tape.
-Daniel during MASH: Just a snippet of Daniel Crossman (who would later play “The Man” in Jamie Klotz’s Diary) during the HSHS Drama production of MASH in the fall of 2005. This snippet was actually played at the Jamie Klotz’s Diary premiere, and is from the original 2005 digital transfer of the MASH footage, which was uploaded alongside the rest of the HSHS Student Life footage from that year. The original footage was taped over.
-Taterfied Outtakes: just a short clip shot in the shop class room. Also from the original student life digital transfer.
-A Day in Hot Springs Outtakes: All of this footage here is sourced from the original May 2006 digital transfer. Only the third tape of footage was recovered in 2016. All shown here is from the first or second tape, but these show the progression of the Indiana Jones/adventure concept, and the “Peanut Butter Ninja,” a phrase which would show up against in Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2
-Paradox Unused Scenes: We reshot a substantial portion of this, so this variation showing Jesse & Jim’s “thinking rocks” (a predecessor to Jamie Klotz’s “thinking caps” scene) has never been seen before. This is sourced from the original 2006 tape transfer.
-Pocket Lint Outtakes: Just a random outtake from Pocket Lint. This footage was all taped over, so this is from the original tape transfer.
-Death and Gump Outtakes: This tape is one of the better-preserved ones from that period. Although the source miniDV tape was recorded over, before it had been taped over, I had made a full backup on Matt’s DVD recorder, which is the same process I used in 2017 when I backed up all the still-existing tapes. This footage comes from a 480p rip of that DVD.
-Unused Jesse & Jim Video: I had forgotten we’d filmed this until I rediscovered it transferring tapes in 2017. It had never been transferred & backed up before then.
-True Love Sunglasses Outtake: from a new transfer of the original miniDV tape. This same source was used for the remastered TLS, which included a new post-credits scene.
-Turtlesphere Q Test Footage: Another literal scrap. We intended on shooting a Dragonball Evolution spoof but only shot this. This was the same day we shot the “Taylor’s Bad Day” footage that was used in the new “movie” version of The Week in Hot Springs.
-The Frog Gump: Partial scenes from an incomplete short intended for the “Adventures in Hot Springs” webseries in 2009. The same frog puppet would be used in Jamie Klotz’s Diary and SideQuests. In the latter portion with Matt as the Genie of the Trashcan, I’m puppeteering with the intent to have Jesse dub the footage later with his voice. This footage is all from a 2017 miniDV transfer.
-Kazoo Hero Vocal Tracks: Recovered from a broken hard drive, these are the original raw vocal tracks recorded for Kazoo Hero in 2009, separated from the music. The video is from the remaster done in 2017 from a miniDV tape transfer.
-A Minute in the Park with Gump: Exactly what it says. It was the last thing I shot with Jesse. This marks the transition from tape transfers to digital video. Shot with the same camera used on Jamie Klotz’s Diary and in the same location as the park chase scene in the first JKD.
-Jamie Klotz’s Diary Deleted Sequence: We shot a bit of footage before the take starts, and then it continues with the edited sequence. This was to play into Dr. Lawrence’s “can’t even water the flowers at the end of the driveway” line, to signify a change of heart for him that would pay off at the end of the movie. We cut it after we shot Jamie & Kaitlyn just leaving after the conversation with Dr. Lawrence.
-Jamie Klotz’s Diary Footage: An outtake of the park “Rocky” gag, a rehearsal and alternate version of Jamie’s missing socks monologue at the start of the film (which was changed when we realized Jamie shouldn’t be in her pajamas during that scene), an outtake of the “Babycakes” scene
-Christmas Radio: A clip from a rehearsal and a small portion of the performance in December 2013.
-The Big Play Rehearsal: Taken from the same read-through that is used in the edited version of The Big Play, we actually read and walked through all first three episodes of The Big Play. This shows a scene from the third episode.
-Jamie Klotz’s Diary 2: an assortment of outtakes, alternate takes, a rehearsal, and a multi-angle of The Man in Dark Gray being pushed into Cascade Springs.
-The Black Owl: A shot of Black Owl and Chickadee running past the camera, meant to pay homage to Batman films with similar shots.
-The Christmas Heist: a handful of scenes from auditions and rehearsals for this Southern Hills Community Theatre show in 2015. I actually filmed every rehearsal for this show in full but the hard drive THAT footage is on has been crashed for almost a year and awaits recovery.
-SideQuests: Alternate takes from SideQuests. Incidentally, Zach Cox makes an offhand remark about not needing to cheat out as much since filming a short film is different from being on stage in a play.
-I Sent My Grandma…: The original ending featured Jordyn as Zoey delivering the closing speech entirely alone, as seen here in this rehearsal. Later, we changed it to have the whole cast deliver the lines most relevant to their character.
-Never Been to Graceland Alternate Narration: This deleted narration wasn’t featured on the DVD deleted scenes or online later. It was determined that the full freeze-frame-and-narration wasn’t necessary and only served to slow the film’s opening down.
-NB2G Improv Outtakes: Tyler Mathieson, as “Dan the Man” gave us multiple variations on what his character might yell when awakened during the final scene of the film. They’re compiled here.
-NB2G Deleted Scene w/Temp Music: Beyond the fact that we were never going to get the rights to Roy Hamilton’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on our budget for the commercially-available version of the film, this scene was cut anyway to tighten the pace and story around Michael as the protagonist. This is the scene as it was in the first edit, with temp music included.
-Viva Las Vegas 2 Clips – Recovered from a VHS tape, from 2003. Fun fact: in the first cut of “Graceland”, that deleted scene literally does end with a transition to Elvis’ “Follow That Dream” over a travel montage that was also cut. That it also happened to be one of the songs I had in 2003’s skit “Viva Las Vegas 2” brings everything full circle nicely I think.

A Mammoth Theatrical Experience

It’s been like a fever dream. One minute, I’m wrapping up a full remastering of the entire Skeeter Bite Productions archive (more on that in a later post!!!) the next, it’s four months later and we’re almost ready to open the first show of Southern Hills Community Theatre’s 6th season.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that because it’s being staged in Hot Springs, “A Mammoth in Harmes Way” has anything to do with the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, but in fact it does not. The show, instead, draws from the experiences of Kathe Holen, whom I had worked with on The Christmas Heist when she played Mrs. Phyllis Falkowitz, and has an archaeological bent, not a paleontological one. Kathe and her husband Steve, as it turns out, are archaeologists and were among the co-authors of a paper presenting evidence that mammoth bones found in California may have been broken by humans almost 130,000 years ago.

That paper, published on April 26, 2017 (just a hair under a year ago as of this post) in the scientific journal Nature, rocked the archaeological world and was featured across the mainstream media. You name it, they covered it: Washington Post, NBC, ABC, NatGeo, NPR, CNN, Buzzfeed, The New Yorker, LA Times, The Atlantic… the list went on and on…

I had read about it and knew the Holens had co-authored it, but I guess, to be frank, I didn’t understand the weight of it until later. It’s probably a good thing though that I wasn’t as intimidated as I probably should have been when Kathe approached the board of SHCT with her script for “A Mammoth in Harmes Way.” While the script was not at all based on actual events, the inspirations are clear with an emphasis on controversial findings, backlash and skepticism in the scientific community, and accurately depicting real archaeology.

Among that was peppered a potent blend of fictional mystery, drama, romance and even hints of social commentary on women in science as journalist Beth tagged along on an expedition with Dr. Robert Hedlund, and his team of archaeologists and volunteers, unraveling not only a scientific puzzle, but a larger, darker secret surrounding the Harmes Way excavation site.

We were just on the tail end of the summer show HMS Pinafore, when I first read “Mammoth.” What immediately struck me about the script was the earnestness and honesty with which it was written. There were no cheap narrative tricks… there was zero cynicism. You could sense authenticity in every line.

Quite a good chunk of the plays SHCT have undertaken in the first five years were shows written by playwrights, men and women who churn out several scripts a year full time to keep revenue flowing. Formulaic is a generous description. But don’t get me wrong, they have their place – sometimes you want to go to a theater, turn your brain off, be entertained, get fed the right emotional beats, and leave without remembering the name of the show in six months.

Ten points for wistfully longing for the good ol’ days. Twenty-five points if they reference Shakespeare anywhere in the script. Fifty points if it’s a holiday show that’s an adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” One hundred points if the plot is about staging a play-within-a-play, doing a radio or TV show, or writing scripts and things going awry.

The other night, I sat down to finalize the last of the Skeeter Bite archival transfers: I Sent My Grandma Into The Past, The Christmas Heist, and Christmas Radio. I hadn’t watched “Radio” since probably mid-2014. How much our little theatre has grown since then! Isaiah, who plays one of the leads, Dr. Robert Hedlund, in “A Mammoth in Harmes Way” was 15 or 16 years old when we did “Radio.”And I thought the last four months flew by, let alone the last 5 years!

It had been the first show which I had written part of (the bookends surrounding the radio play adaptation of A Christmas Carol – said script racks up 185 points at least, thankyouverymuch!) and the first show that I had directed. The Christmas Carol portion wasn’t anything to write home about, but those bookends, if I can humblebrag a bit, were pretty all right! Not great but I still think they’re kinda charming.

In particular, toward the end of the show, there’s a moment where Sam Martin, playing the Orson Welles knock-off Richard Ives, berates the radio station’s cast for all the production woes. But Isaiah’s character, Jack, stands up to him, telling him that despite everything, the little troupe had done their best with what they had.

At the time, it was an intentional coda to the whole season. It was the last show of SHCT’s first season. Sure there plans for the next year, but who knew how long the theater would live? I didn’t know if I would ever get to write or direct another show again. Betsy had taken a chance on me without knowing whether I even could write and I wasn’t going to waste it.

I knew when I read “Mammoth” that I wanted to take the same sort of chance on Kathe that Betsy had taken on me, and Kathe had expressed an interest in having me direct it if we thought the show was good enough to stage.

Kathe and I had a great sit-down meeting where we explored in great detail all the questions that I always ask myself whenever I am writing and directing my own material: Who are these characters? What are their motivations? What’s going on between the lines, before and after scenes? Why does this character know this piece of information and how did they learn it? How does one character feel about another even though they may never speak a line between them? Thinking about a story in a deeper, more self-critical way that’s equal parts objective and subjective was a lesson I myself had learned the hard way, especially on Never Been to Graceland. Knowing how it had been inspired by so many real elements in her life, I wanted to save Kathe the heartbreak of losing something beloved dearly late in the game like I lost AJ’s subplot in Graceland. Thankfully it wasn’t anything we had to really worry about!

After the dinner theatre was done in late October, we held a read-through of the revised script, with some theatre friends joining us and filling in roles. Hearing it out loud just confirmed that the show was ready to be staged.

So here we are, less than 24 hours out from opening night. But it’s more than that. It’s the first show of our 6th Season, the first without Betsy (follow her over on the As We Go blog), Kathe’s first, and for me, the first thing I’ve ever directed that did not originate with myself. That might not seem significant, but this year marks the 15th year working by and largely only on my own material. I’m thrilled that “A Mammoth in Harmes Way” is the first major project to break that trend.

Looking back, that scene from Christmas Radio takes on less of a manifestation as a coda than something resembling a recurring mantra: no matter what anyone else says, no matter how many things might go wrong, and though I might not do things as well as a more experienced or trained director or writer might, but we’re going to do the best with what we have and hope folks enjoy it.

I’ll be back after the show to write more about the podcast I started with Gurdip Ladhar, TCBCast, and share some neat behind the scenes stuff from “A Mammoth in Harmes Way” as well as start outlining what the next couple years are gonna look like project-wise.

-Justin

I Sent My Grandma Into the Past (Full Show)

I recorded all three performances of the show but it’s always tough deciding how best to present the results. Do you upload the Friday show, which had a bigger & louder audience response but wasn’t necessarily as accurate to the page? Do you upload the Saturday show, which was more accurate to the script in some parts but in others had some “oops” moments? Do you pick and choose whole scenes from all three nights to best represent the show, as I did with Christmas Heist? Or do you hodge-podge together a Frankenstein’s monster of all three, editing and splicing dialogue from one night to cover another’s flub, and editing between nights wherever possible?

Ultimately, I have chosen to upload the entire Saturday show, mostly unedited – save for the obvious fade ins and outs. While it didn’t have as big of a response as the Friday show, it was better performed, had the fewest technical problems (read: the microphones were all on the whole show) and it was, for the most part, the performance that most represented the script on the whole, despite an ad-lib here and there, and poor Jordyn’s stumble in Act 2!

Without further ado, please enjoy “I Sent My Grandma Into the Past! (And Other Chronological Conundrums)”

Recovery

WE DID IT!

I Sent My Grandma Into The Past (And Other Chronological Conundrums) played March 30-31 and April 1 at the Mueller Civic Center to wonderful reception by the community.

As these things tend to go, I inevitably ended up with a pretty awful cold performance week, with it peaking in intensity on Friday and Saturday – two of the performance dates! All three performances would not have been possible without the help of Deana Roberts, who diligently kept me full of Theraflu, Mucinex, and a variety of cough drops, fluids and other helpful goodies.

But most of all, the cast and crew of I Sent My Grandma pulled out all the stops and gave phenomenal performances, despite some minor technical issues on the back end. No matter how hard I was trying to stifle a disruptive cough, I could not help but grin during Zach’s “beat poem” (Pictured above) which of all scenes probably had the loudest and most raucous audience reaction – and rightfully so. Zach’s over the top dramatic reading kept getting better and better each night as I could observe him playing off the audience’s reactions: the harder they laughed, the more of an affectation he put on.

Whether it has been Jamie Klotz, Christmas Heist or this, the thing I have always anticipated the most is the crowd reaction. If we’re eliciting any reaction, I’ve done something that has affected people, good or bad. Thankfully, the crowd was open with their laughter and reactions to the scenes.

The thing I’m most proud about in this script is what I feel to be strong, relatable characterizations. Every character gets a chance to shine and for the audience to learn who they are inside and sympathize with them. When the crowd cheered Grandma Margaret’s final interaction with her best friend Betsy, I knew we’d succeeded in making both of those characters strong enough for the audience to care. When the audience audibly cringed during Spencer and Zoey’s argument at the end of Act 1 as Spencer criticized Zoey, I knew that even though Zoey was the protagonist they cared about, they could tell she was still imperfect as person – and they cared about that. I’m really excited to be able to start developing stories with complex characters and hope to do so in my future projects.

So what’s next then?

Well, of course in August will be Never Been to Graceland’s premiere but as that is in post production, I am functionally project-less as far as having anything to write or start production on. I’m certainly going to take some recovery time after this show, but I do have a couple story ideas I’d like to pursue later this year and into 2018.

Stay tuned… I may have an announcement or two soon…

“I Sent My Grandma” Script Preview

Auditions are just under a week away for “I Sent My Grandma Into the Past.” If you’re interested in a part, check out this short script sample. Every character except Betsy (elder) and Tim appear in this scene.

Some advice for those who are thinking out coming to try for those parts that don’t appear in this scene: The elder Betsy is very much personality-wise like younger Betsy; that is, whiny and bratty, just older. Tim, on the other hand, is the smooth, fast-talking older salesman who convinces Zoey to buy “Timothy E. Traveller’s Amazing Patented Flux Timer 3000!” Think a cross between a used car salesman and a TV commercial pitch person.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD PDF PREVIEW

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